Month: February 2011

Wisconsin: people are organized = politicians have spines

Hats off to the good people of Wisconsin who are standing up.  I’ve been glued to the screen and tweeting about it all day.

It’s great to see some courage from progressive Democratic office holders.  It’s a good reminder for all of us who are working for social justice – that we on “the outside” are the source of courage for allies (and potential allies) on “the inside.”  As my friend Zack Hershman posted this afternoon: “people are organized = politicians have spines.”  Our task is always to build and leverage grassroots people power that is strong enough to counter the formidable power of our very resourced opponents.

Right does not equal might.  It’s great that the teachers and public workers and their allies in Wisconsin have truth and justice on their side, but I’m pretty happy that they’re also packing a punch, aren’t you?

What are you reading about what’s going down in Wisconsin?

Orienting New Members & Volunteers to a Local Group

Three Tips for Plugging People In

Bringing in new members or volunteers is essential to any local group that wants to grow in size and capacity. However, attracting or recruiting new people to your group is only the first step. Getting them to stick around can be a much bigger challenge! The good news is that there are tried and true methods you can use to plug new members and volunteers into tasks and roles that will build their investment and leadership in the group, and will increase what your group is capable of achieving.

Click thumbnail image on left to download this post as a PDF worksheet.

Wisconsin | Lost & found: a hegemonic progressive narrative

[vimeo 20089255 w=400 h=225]

Every once in a long while something comes along that inspires progressives all across the country – all at once – and that has the power to reach beyond the boundaries of our progressive circles, to break out of the cognitive boxes we’ve been placed in, and to associate fresh meanings with old labels, such as: organized labor, unions, workers’ rights, collective bargaining.

These once powerful terms and labels have been systematically slandered (negatively branded) for decades – so that too much of the public has become inoculated against them – but in Wisconsin there’s an opening to make these concepts powerful again to a new generation.

Wisconsin: people are organized = politicians have spines

Hats off to the good people of Wisconsin who are standing up.  I’ve been glued to the screen and tweeting about it all day.

It’s great to see some courage from progressive Democratic office holders.  It’s a good reminder for all of us who are working for social justice – that we on “the outside” are the source of courage for allies (and potential allies) on “the inside.”  As my friend Zack Hershman posted this afternoon: “people are organized = politicians have spines.”  Our task is always to build and leverage grassroots people power that is strong enough to counter the formidable power of our very resourced opponents.

Right might.  It’s great that the teachers and public workers and their allies in Wisconsin have truth and justice on their side, but I’m pretty happy that they’re also packing a punch, aren’t you?

What are you reading about what’s going down in Wisconsin?

Immigration: anatomy of a progressive narrative | Evolutionary logic of collective action pt.IV

Last week during a debate with Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at George Washington University, Governor Howard Dean offered a compelling narrative about immigration in the United States:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBk0PuOpTIs&w=480&h=390%5D

I don’t believe we ought to demonize people who are trying to do the best they can…  How many people in this hall have American Indian blood in you?  Raise your hand…  Everybody else is an immigrant!  The reason this country is such an extraordinary success is because we got those people who dared to leave their homes, who dared to do something different … who took some risks.  And their descendants are all here.  Every American family has a narrative about somebody who worked hard, came up from the bottom, scrubbed floors on their knees – and their grandchildren and great grandchildren got to go to George Washington University [location of debate].  We gotta keep that alive!

…When the Irish got here, no Irish needed apply.  When the Jews got here, they couldn’t go to the Ivy League.  When the Italians got here, they had to labor on the tunnels underneath New York.  Everybody had to face this.  Isn’t it time we stopped and accepted people who want to make America great, and let them be citizens again?

Why does Howard Dean’s answer resonate?  Why is it a potent narrative?  What are the narrative components?  What emotions and cognitive frames does he prime and connect with?

Evolutionary logic of collective action (series)

In this series I explore how evolutionary theory might help to explain the origins and logic of collective action, and how it might inform the thinking and strategies of progressive change agents.

This is the landing page for the series.  You can bookmark it and check back for new posts, which I’ll be linking to from this page.

  1. Humans: not just selfish
  2. War, xenophobia and other downsides to group selection
  3. The Political Identity Paradox
  4. Immigration: anatomy of a progressive narrative

Malcolm Gladwell is right about Egypt and Twitter, and here’s why that’s upsetting to some folks

If Malcolm Gladwell lacks nuance in his dismissal of the contributions of Twitter, Facebook and other new social media to deep social change, that is fully forgivable.  The title of the article that kicked off the controversy, Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted, is a lot pithier than the perhaps more accurate, “Sure, the Revolution may very well be Tweeted, and it may even benefit to an extent from this particular new communication form, but Twitter is not a replacement for the strong social ties that come from face-to-face human interaction.”  There can be good reason and value in kicking off a conversation with a slightly oversimplified assertion – because it is indeed more likely to incite a reaction and actually kick off a conversation.

I agreed with Gladwell then, and I agree with him again in his latest post, Does Egypt Need Twitter?, which applies his original assertion to the current situation in Egypt:

Right now there are protests in Egypt that look like they might bring down the government. There are a thousand important things that can be said about their origins and implications: as I wrote last fall in The New Yorker, “high risk” social activism requires deep roots and strong ties. But surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone-and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years-and in the French Revolution the crowd in the streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice. People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.

Activism vs. organizing | reflections on Gramsci pt.2

In his essay Voluntarism and Social Masses, Antonio Gramsci argues that “the actions and organizations of ‘volunteers’ must be distinguished from the actions and organisations of homogeneous social blocs, and judged by different criteria.”  He defines these “volunteers” as “those who have detached themselves from the mass by arbitrary individual initiative…”

His language of volunteers vs. organized social blocs aligns with a similar distinction often made between activism and organizing.  Anyone can become an activist overnight, if he or she so desires.  All you need to do is to start taking action as an individual on an issue you care about.  I’m not about to be as dismissive as Gramsci seems to be in this essay about the value of such an act.  However, he makes a good point: organizing is about finding other people to take action with you.  But there’s more – and here’s where I find Gramsci’s framework so helpful – organizing is not just about finding anyone to take action with you; it’s about working to activate an already constituted social bloc and turn the bloc itself into the historical actor.

Grassroots organizational branding | grassroots communications tips pt.4

Branding, in the advertising world, is imbuing a company or product with positive associations inside the consumer’s mind.  Marlboro, for example, has so successfully associated cowboys and the wild frontier with their product (cigarettes), that some of their ads don’t even mention the name “Marlboro.”  They don’t need to, because the product comes to mind automatically at the sight of the now-famous cowboy image.

In the late 1990s Rainforest Action Network (RAN) carried out some very effective negative branding campaigns, which many powerful people took notice of.  RAN realized that a positive brand is one of the most important assets of a corporation.  A tarnished brand can repel consumers and scare away investors, as Home Depot learned the hard way.  RAN effectively painted Home Depot as a reckless destroyer of old growth forests and rainforests, until the company committed to discontinue using old growth forests for lumber.  (A few other companies followed, like dominoes, just at the threat of a possible RAN campaign against their brand name.)

It was around then that I got to thinking about the brands of the social justice organizations I worked with.  A brand is essentially the memories and associations that tend to come to mind in the popular imagination at the mention of your name.  In this sense, individuals can even have “brands” (though we usually call this a reputation).  What associations were coming to mind at the mention of different social change organizations?  What about at the mention of broader labels such as activism, environmentalism, feminism, socialism, the peace movement, etc.?  If a tarnished brand hurt a corporation’s ability to move product or attract investors, perhaps our tarnished brands were part of the reason so many social change groups were having such a difficult time attracting more participants.